You could call it Calvinist free jazz. From Norway. Using the restricted tonal palette associated with ancient folksong and renaissance polyphony, plus the self-willed reticence of late John Cage, the music of the pianist and composer Christian Wallumrod aims at a kind of quiescent beauty. Not much happens, but it fails to happen very prettily, and the ensemble's two albums on the ECM label work well - in the way many ECM albums do - as superior audio-wallpaper.
The ensemble also features the trumpeter Arve Henriksen, who at present has a considerable claim to be the most interesting instrumentalist in the whole of jazz. Alongside Henriksen in the forward line is the celebrated folk violinist Nils Okland, a master of the Hardanger-fiddle style whose repetitions offer themselves as very natural partners to Wallumrod's more intellectual minimalism. The percussionist Per Oddvar Johansen completed the group.
This second performance of a short British tour at the wonderfully atmospheric venue of Cardiff Bay's Norwegian Church (built originally as a seaman's mission and then rebuilt as an arts centre) should have been a dream date. For me, it turned out to be more like a nightmare. By the end, after an uninterrupted performance of 75 minutes or so, I would have happily murdered my neighbour for the semblance of a tune. Any tune.
Perhaps in a more resonant venue, the notes (the few there were of them) would have hung in the air. Heard without amplification in the tinder-dry acoustic of the pitch-pine-clad chapel, they fell to the ground like stones. With no stage lighting to focus attention, and the wow and flutter of the audience's internal organs making as much noise as the band, it was uncannily like sitting in the waiting room of a doctor's surgery, if marginally less entertaining.
At the beginning, the charmingly self-effacing Wallumrod had won our approval by saying how honoured he was to be playing in such a marvellous room. The sixty-strong audience indulged him politely thereafter, throughout all the provocations of endless plinky-plonk: the bowing of tibetan bells; the single-string fiddle solo that felt an hour long; Mr W rapping his knuckles on the laquer of the concert grand, or burrowing about in its innards to insert an Argos catalogue between the strings. In fact - and fair play to him - Wallumrod managed to get through the entire performance without ever revealing whether or not he could play the piano.
At the end of each number there was gracious applause, but the only time you felt a real spark of delight was when someone accidentally kicked over their cup and saucer. In summary, what irked the most - and normally I'm a sucker for this kind of Nordic non-jazz jazz - was the music's unregenerately dour Protestantism, and the apparent belief that if you play few enough notes, and put sufficient air around them, an epiphany will ensue. It didn't. And Arve Henriksen? Like Michael Owen in a long-ball game, he spent most of the time waiting for a pass that never came.Reuse content